Posted on April 28, 2015

Huge Fires Set Across Baltimore as Freddie Gray Rioters Torch City

Mia De Graaf, Daily Mail, April 27, 2015

A state of emergency has been declared in Baltimore after the city transformed into ‘an absolute war zone’ following the funeral of Freddie Gray.

More than 1,000 Maryland police officers, the Maryland National Guard, and 5,000 officers from neighboring states are on standby in the city and the president has been briefed on the situation as violence continues to escalate. It is the same level of reinforcement the city requested during the riots of 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated.

The scenes of destruction were initially billed as anti-police protests to avenge the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury in police custody on April 12.

But it rapidly mushroomed into uncontrolled riots.

Fifteen police officers have been injured, many suffering broken bones, and at least one appeared ‘unresponsive’. Two of the 15 are in hospital in a serious condition. At least 27 people have been arrested.

A $16 million nursing home built by a Baptist church, which was due to open in December after eight years of construction, has been burned to rubble on the city’s east side as violence spread from the west of the city. Just two blocks away, a housing development was also ablaze.

Officials feared the fires were sparked to pull emergency services from the west side of the city, where rioters continued to loot gun stores, check cashing stores, liquor stores and supermarkets well into Tuesday morning. Balaclava-clad mobs were seen ripping the doors off one rifle shop and passing weapons to people on the streets.

When a CVS pharmacy was set ablaze, rioters slashed fire fighters’ hoses as they tried to battle the flames.

Even as the governor of Maryland pledged the highest level of support available, police continued to be pelted with rocks and families were forced to flee their homes as fires spread from block to block.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake branded the rioters ‘senseless thugs’ in a press conference as she announced a week-long 10pm-5am curfew for all citizens starting tomorrow night.

By nightfall, groups started moving toward more affluent areas near Camden Yards stadium, prompting Monday night’s White Sox v Orioles game to be suspended. College students were told to stay in their dorms and all schools will be closed on Tuesday.

Just hours after Gray was laid to rest on Monday at a service attended by 2,500, including luminaries of the civil rights movement, hundreds of protestors started throwing rocks and stones at dozens of police in riot gear. It soon escalated into uncontrolled destruction.

According to a report by the Baltimore Sun, the unrest grew from a dispute between police officers and students earlier on Monday, when the teenagers started looting stores. Photographs and video during the day have captured scenes of officers throwing rocks, prompting many to accuse law enforcement of fueling the situation.

Families were forced to flee their homes in west Baltimore as it approached morning and nearby stores were being set alight. Video footage emerged of a shopkeeper was also seen being pulled from his store and beaten as the riots spread.

The Gray family has publicly denounced the riots and called for peace. Bill Murphy, the family’s attorney, branded the situation ‘devastating’, adding: ‘This won’t solve the police problem. This is dangerous to the movement.’

‘I think the violence is wrong,’ Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka Gray, said late Monday. ‘I don’t like it at all.’

Mr Murphy, said the family had hoped to organize a peace march later in the week.

Mary Koch, another attorney for the Gray family, said it was ‘terrible’ that riots had overshadowed the 25-year-old’s memorial service on Monday.

Her words were echoed by Carron Morgan, Gray’s cousin, who told the Baltimore Sun: ‘This is not justice. This is just people finding a way to steal stuff.

‘We didn’t even want people to protest today. It was just a time to grieve for Freddie and to celebrate his life.’

He said on Monday that rather than being out protesting, the family would instead be helping with the clean up efforts the next day.

However, the protesters found support in Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner who died while being restrained by police in New York’s Statten Island.

Garner’s death sparked outrage that courted international attention, and weeks of protests – but they were incredibly tame in contrast with the scenes in Baltimore on Monday night.

Speaking to CNN’s Don Lemon, hours after she attended Gray’s funeral in Baltimore, Erica said she does not condone violence but understands the rioters’ frustration.

‘They had enough,’ she said.

‘They don’t know what else to do. They don’t have no [sic] jobs, they don’t have proper schooling. These kids have no hope. I’m not condoning what they are doing but they think ‘eventually this is going to happen to me, I’m going to be killed by police’, so they’re making themselves heard.

‘Burning down the city is not right but what other choice do we have. We’re scared.’

On Monday morning, three of the city’s most violent and dangerous gangs – Black Guerrilla Family, Crips and Blood – announced an unprecedented alliance to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers, in a move that has prompted fears for police safety across the country.

The gangs – all rivals – announced they have entered into an alliance to ‘take out’ officers. According to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, the department received intelligence that long-term rivals Bloods and Crips had a meeting in which they planned to kill one police officer each.

Black Guerrilla Family breeds some of the city’s most violent convicts. The man who killed two NYPD cops in December last year, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was believed to have ties to the deadly group.

Crips, whose members wear blue, is one of the largest gangs in the US, and was formed in Los Angeles. Their rivalry with Bloods dates back to the 1960s.

Bloods, whose members wear red, was formed as an alliance for people to seek refuge from Crips, but soon became a crime ring itself.

However, despite the threat, some of the gang members appeared to be showing solidarity with law enforcement – and one Bloods member pulled a Baltimore Sun journalist to safety during a violent commotion.

Earlier in the day, members of Crips and Blood linked arms with Nation Of Islam leaders in the streets in an apparent bid for peace.

Meanwhile, officers were forming lines across the streets, holding up riot shields as rocks were hurled at them. Armored police vans patrolling the streets were also attacked with rocks, and barricades were set alight.

Officers on the ground used pepper spray and tear gas on the crowds, but the measures appeared to have little effect: as soon as they left an area, crowds would return to loot the stores or burn the cars.

Fires were left burning by emergency services apparently to expire on their own, further enraging rioters.

As emergency services battled a burning CVS pharmacy, riot police were forced to circle the fire engine as a barrier against rock-throwing protestors.

Looters were nonchalant and showed their faces.

‘We went in there and tore it up,’ said a 16-year-old who said he was one of the looters inside the CVS.

Just down the street from the smoldering CVS, business owner Daisy Bush, 61, said: ‘The sad part about it is that a lot of people from the community were up there in the CVS, stealing stuff out of it. It’s a disgrace.’

Earlier in the day youths threw rocks and bricks at police. Six officers were injured seriously, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told reporters.

‘This is not protesting. This is not your first amendment rights. This is just criminal acts doing damage to a community,’ he said.

Mr Batts said they needed the help of the National Guard because of the sheer number of protestors and scale of unrest taking place on Monday.

He added: ‘They just outnumbered us and outflanked us. We needed to have more resources out there.’

Batts said authorities had had a ‘very trying and disappointing day.’

Congressman Elijah Cummings equated the situation to the unrest in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968, when 5,000 National Guard officers were deployed to control the situation.

He said: ‘I was thinking back in 68 and 69 when I was in high schools and I thought about the riots and how businesses were being destroyed.

‘Destroying property or throwing bottles or things at police, that distracts us from the fact that Freddie Gray died and that we need solutions to the problems that we have with our police department.’

Colonel William Pallozzi, the superintendent of the state police, said a request for up to 500 additional law enforcement personnel in Maryland had been sent. Pallozzi added that the state is putting out a request for up to 5,000 more law enforcement personnel from around the mid-Atlantic region.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings and about 200 others, including ministers, tried unsuccessfully to quell the violence at one point Monday night, marching arm-in-arm through a neighborhood littered with broken glass, flattened aluminum cans and other debris. As they got close to a line of police officers, the marchers went down on their knees. They then rose to their feet and walked until they were face-to-face with the police officers in a tight formation and wearing riot gear.

The situation also has political dimensions. Mayor Rawlings-Blake has been severely criticized for her alleged apathy and failure to act earlier.

In an apparent dig at the mayor, the governor of Maryland told a press conference he had been waiting to issue a state of emergency, and said that he signed an executive order ‘within 30 seconds’ of the mayor’s phone call.

As the sun sets, dozens of citizens are taking to the streets in an attempt to deter the violent groups, including Vietnam veteran Robert Valentine who said he’s lived through the worst and cannot bear to watch the violence.

‘I’m very pissed,’ he told CNN.

David Simon, creator of Baltimore-based hit drama The Wire, has also issued a plea to the rioters: ‘Turn around. Go home.’

He added on his blog: ‘Now–in this moment–the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease.

‘There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today.

‘But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.’

The violence in Baltimore is being felt across the country. In Los Angeles, the LAPD has ordered all officers to work in pairs after violent gangs issued ‘credible threats’ to ‘take out’ law enforcement.

A ‘blue alert’ was issued across the California city on Monday amid fears people across the country will attempt ‘revenge attacks’ on police for the death of Freddie Gray.

In a press conference, Mayor Rawlings-Blake slammed rioters’ action and said law enforcement will be reviewing TV footage of the violence to hold individuals to account.

She said: ‘It is very clear there is a difference between what we saw with the peaceful protests, those who wish to seek justice and wants answers . . . and the thugs, who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.

‘Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for – things that you know will impact our community for years.

‘We’re deploying every resource possible to gain control of this situation.’

Later, the new Attorney General Loretta Lynch added her condemnation: ‘Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family.’

Earlier, Captain Eric Kowalczyk confirmed that the police would be using tear gas to break up the riots, as well as rubber bullets.

‘We have officers deployed throughout the city and will continue to keep the city safe,’ said Kowalczyk, who described the city as a war zone.

‘Our officers our working appropriately to arrest those who without provocation attack out police officers.

‘I have seven injured officers, one is unresponsive and some have broken bones. This is not okay. We will find the people responsible and put them in jail

Gray’s family slammed the riots for pulling focus from the investigation into his death

The Gray family has publicly denounced the riots and called for peace. Bill Murphy, the family’s attorney, branded the situation ‘devastating’, adding: ‘This won’t solve the police problem. This is dangerous to the movement.’

Mary Koch, another attorney for the Gray family, said it was ‘terrible’ that riots had overshadowed the 25-year-old’s memorial service on Monday.

Her words were echoed by Carron Morgan, Gray’s cousin, who told the Baltimore Sun: ‘This is not justice. This is just people finding a way to steal stuff. We didn’t even want people to protest today. It was just a time to grieve for Freddie and to celebrate his life.’

He added that they will not be on the streets tonight, adding: ‘We’re going to be out tomorrow cleaning up, for sure.’

‘This is a lawless group of individuals.’

The majority of those throwing rocks and smoke grenades at the police appeared to be young men and the violence caused the University of Maryland Baltimore to close early on Monday.

Initially appearing to struggle to contain the demonstrators, police tactical teams arrived and they were pelted with bottles and rocks and the Baltimore Sun reported that ‘several’ officers were injured.

The clashes followed a widely circulated flier promising a ‘purge’ at 3pm to start at Mondawmin Mall which would end downtown.

The popular meme is based on the movie, ‘The Purge’ which imagines a lawless city.

A statement from the university said: ‘Due to reports from the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) concerning scheduled activities today beginning at 3pm, UMB will close today at 2pm at the recommendation of the BPD.

‘These activities may be potentially violent and UMB could be in the path of any violence.

‘The safety of our students and employees is of paramount importance please vacate the campus as soon as possible.’

The measures by the university follow police in Baltimore deciding to go on high alert over fears their officers will now be targeted in revenge killings following the death of Mr Gray.

The Baltimore PD said they were now taking ‘appropriate precautions’ to ensure they safety of their officers, although they did not say what they were.

The worrying development comes as family and mourners gathered for the funeral of Gray and spoke about the injuries suffered by the 25-year-old.

During the service, the Gray family attorney launched a scathing attack on the Baltimore Police Department.

Bill Murphy said that the six Baltimore police officers suspended after a man suffered serious spinal injuries while in custody should come clean to the public what happened.

Murphy’s remarks about the officers drew a standing ovation at the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died April 19, days after his encounter with police.

The 2,500-capacity New Shiloh Baptist church was filled with mourners, many of whom filed past Gray’s casket before the service began.

‘This is our moment to get at truth. This is our moment to get it right,’ Murphy said.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland spoke movingly and powerfully at the funeral saying, ‘To mother Gloria and to the entire family, I want you to know we stand with you during this difficult time.’

The service was led by the Rev. Jamal Bryant who delivered the eulogy and spoke of the difficulties suffered by young, black and poor men.

He said that black people need to confront the government and police to change.

‘This is not the time for us as a people to be sitting on a corner drinking malt liquor. This is not the time for us to be playing lottery,’ he said.

Get your black self up and change this city,’ said Bryant.. ‘I don’t know how you can be black in America and be silent.

‘With everything we’ve been through, ain’t no way in the world you can sit here and be silent in the face of injustice.’

The Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke and reminded everyone of the burden all of society must face to be equal. ‘When society is sick and mean, the innocent will be slain,’ said Jackson.

He pointed to the example of Baltimore itself and its poverty stricken westside, which is overwhelmingly black and the white, prosperous downtown.

‘Sixteen thousand abandoned or vacant homes, 25 percent unemployment–we don’t need more police, we need more jobs,’ said Jackson.

‘Why can’t the west side get the same things downtown gets?’

Jackson also said there have been 110 deaths at the hands of police since 2010. ‘Fred wasn’t number one, he was number one-one-one,’ said Jackson.

As riots broke out in Baltimore, Maryland on Monday, several local businesses were ransacked and set on fire by looters – including a CVS pharmacy.

One rioter, determined not to let firefighters save the burning drug store, cut their water line. Shockingly, that moment was caught on live TV as the chaos was live streaming this afternoon.

CNN footage shows the bold rioter in a red and gray hoodie walking up to the hose, holding a knife. The rioter, who appears to be male, then cuts away at the hose until water starts spraying. The bandit then flees the scene without ever showing his face, covered with a gas mask.

‘We are here because we feel threatened,’ said Jackson. ‘All of our sons are at risk.’

In an emotional reading, Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley recited a poem written by his sister’s Missy and Carolina.

‘The tears I have cried for you could flood the earth,’ read Shipley.

The 11am service at the city’s New Shiloh Baptist Church was also attended by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Elijah Cummings and the Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

A small group of mourners lined up about two hours ahead of the funeral. As they began filing into the church, the white casket with Gray’s body was opened, flanked by floral arrangements. A rope was placed in front of the casket to prevent people from getting too close. One person used a cellphone to take a photo of the body.

Placed atop Gray’s body was a white pillow with a screened picture of him. A projector aimed at two screens on the walls showed the words ‘Black Lives Matter & All Lives Matter.’

On Sunday, the White House said the head of President Barack Obama’s initiative for young men of color would attend the funeral. Broderick Johnson, chairman of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and a Baltimore native, is to be joined by two other administration officials, according to the White House.

At Gray’s wake Sunday, mourners who didn’t even know him filed in a steady stream for hours into a funeral home. Some supporters stood outside with signs that read, ‘We remember Freddie’ and ‘Our Hearts Are With The Gray Family.’

Melissa McDonald, 36, who said she was Gray’s cousin, wore a shirt with ‘Freddie Forever’ printed on the back. She described her cousin as a nonviolent person.

‘He didn’t deserve to die the way he did,’ she said.

Gray’s wake followed demonstrations Saturday that turned violent. Roughly 1,200 protesters rallied outside City Hall on Saturday afternoon, officials said.

A smaller group splintered off and looted a convenience store and smashed storefront windows.

A protester tossed a flaming metal garbage can toward a line of police officers in riot gear as they tried to push back the crowd.

Earlier, a group of protesters smashed the windows of at least three police cars.

Some 34 people were arrested, according to Baltimore Police Department, and six police officers sustained minor injuries.

During a news conference on Sunday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for protesters to be peaceful.

‘At the end of the day, we are one Baltimore. We need to support peaceful demonstration and continue to enforce in our communities that rioting, violence, and looting will not be tolerated in our city,’ the mayor said. ‘Together we can be one Baltimore and seek answers as we seek justice and as we seek peace.’

Gray’s death has prompted near-daily demonstrations. Gray was arrested one week before he died when officers chased him through a West Baltimore neighborhood and dragged him into a police van.

Police said Gray was arrested after he made eye contact with officers and ran away. Officers held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into the van. While inside, he became irate and leg cuffs were put on him, police have said.

Gray asked for medical help several times, beginning before he was placed in the van. After a 30-minute ride that included three stops, paramedics were called.

Authorities have not explained how or when Gray’s spine was injured.

Police acknowledged on Friday that Gray should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested – before he was put inside a police transport van handcuffed and without a seat belt, a violation of the police department’s policy.